Reader Feedback, Part 2

In the January issue of Control, our company was quoted in the "Lend a Helping Hand" article. It was great to have the chance to highlight a salient fact of customer service, one we find the vast majority of suppliers completely miss: Ironically, while a good supplier is characterized by delivering reliably to expectations, they have to cause a problem before we can tell if they are truly a great supplier. In a perfect world there wouldn’t be any problems, and flawlessly meeting every expectation would be the only mark of an outstanding supplier. We should all certainly aim for this, but in our technical world, unexpected “opportunities” tend to rear their head with unnerving frequency. As a customer, we are most interested in how a supplier behaves when the proverbial stuff is hitting the fan, when their products or their supply chain are behaving unexpectedly, and they find themselves unable to deliver on our original expectations or their promises. We often find ourselves with “that one application” which meets every spec but where the product or service or delivery nonetheless fails. At this point we get to see how the supplier reacts to their new reality, which has changed in an instant from “Kumbaya” to “Houston, We Have A Problem”. To use a football analogy, while it is important to concentrate on basic blocking and tackling, if you don’t have effective special teams you can lose a game in a heartbeat. Special teams may play less than five percent of the game, but at that moment they are the only players on the field, and it is suddenly irrelevant how good the offense or defense is. Taking the analogy a step further, we all know that special teams are made up of many of the same players who were playing offense or defense moments before. But being able to perform well in their normal position doesn’t necessarily prepare them for the critical challenges faced by special teams. When problems arise, our teams must be ready to play a different style of game where the rules and requirements and even the clock are all handled differently. Breaking this down further, a few questions must be answered: - Can all customer-facing individuals differentiate between nuisance issues and problems that threaten the customer relationship? - Once a critical issue is recognized, are they empowered to escalate it quickly and to the right individuals? - Will these additional people rapidly accelerate, moving at the speed of the customer as opposed to the pace of their comfort zone? - And finally, when it is a cross-functional issue, as is often the case, can departmental walls be rapidly breached to define and deploy a solution that is both good for the customer and acceptable to the supplier? It is during problem resolution that we watch our suppliers most closely. The results are often remembered for years, even decades, because at that critical moment, it affecting our delivery of our promises to our customers, who are watching and judging us in exactly the same way. This is our make-or-break moment, and therefore the supplier’s as well. This is their moment to shine. Service during problem resolution is one of our bedrock criteria as we select and reject suppliers, and we strive to keep this in mind it as we serve our own customers. Wright Sullivan, PE President A&E Engineering, Inc. wright@aeengr.com

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  • Being in Field Sales for a number of years now, I have experienced the pitfalls of not meeting customers’ expectations when the stuff does hit the fan. As I look back at past situations, I realize that most of the poor customer service issue could have been avoided – and should have. They were a big waste of time and resources.

    The result from any customer service issue can make or break business relationships. It only takes one bad experience and the customer is gone. We all know this!

    Once in my life, I was a Quality Assurance Specialist for Konica Business Machines (copiers, fax machines, multifunctional units). I was responsible for finding “problems” and making sure these “problems” were fixed on existing units and corrections were implemented in Production and Engineering to ensure the problem would not be repeated. I try to keep this same guideline in mind when I’m dealing with a customer service issue. It’s like I tell my kids, “Take care of the problem! Learn from it! Do your best to make sure the problem doesn’t happen again”. This is also the same way of thinking that can make any company successful while at the same time, it has to be the most under practiced policy around. How many times have you had to deal with a reoccurring issue?

    I agree with you Mr. Sullivan, communication with other departments is critical in responding to difficult issue. We at Monarch Instrument are focused on improving our Customer Service and Technical Support procedures. Every day we are trying to improve our product line and our communication between our staff and our customers.

    Keep up the great articles in Control.

    It’s good to read no-so-technical articles.

    Tom Donahue, Monarch Instrument, tdonahue@monarchinstrument.com

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